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National Restaurant Association - How Wingstop incorporated chatbots into its ordering

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How Wingstop incorporated chatbots into its ordering

Thinking about a “bot” taking your order at a restaurant might evoke images of C-3PO or another human-like form scooting around, taking the human touch out of a restaurant interaction.

But placing your order with an interactive chatbot may not be so strange after all. Consumers use chat programs to communicate with friends (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp) and colleagues (Slack, Jabber) already. With these programs and habits firmly in the mainstream, the future seems bright for artificial intelligence (AI) or chatbots who can talk – or type. 

Millennials who have grown up with the Internet may be driving the change. They “demand experiences that are personalized and context-sensitive,” a recent Forbes article notes. “Most importantly, they want it all to happen in real time, something humans aren’t always great at delivering.”

Ben Lamm, co-founder and CEO of Conversable, recently worked with Wingstop to integrate Conversable’s one-on-one “conversation platform” into the restaurant company’s social ordering platform. Wingstop customers can now order by typing “Order” into a Facebook Message or tweeting to @Wingstop with the #order hashtag.

“The ability to better serve a customer in any channel allows restaurants more direct communication, with an even wider audience, than ever before,” Lamm says.

He and Wingstop chief information officer Stacy Peterson, both speakers at our 2016 Restaurant Innovation Summit, answer these questions about the integration process:

Is typing a bot really a better experience than calling a person?

A bot may be preferable to a phone call for many younger guests. “The next generation of consumers prefers messaging to any other medium,” says Lamm. “If restaurant brands want to stay relevant to their consumers, they must embrace what the market is showing them and the channels their customers prefer.”

Peterson says her company wants to help guests order in the way that is most convenient for them. “We’re focused on providing guests with more innovative and convenient ways to order ahead,” she notes. She says the Conversable partnership meets the company’s strategic goals for engaging with its fans on social media and continuing to grow the company’s digital storefront. 

Being an early adopter carries some challenges.  “You have to educate your guests and let them know this opportunity exists,” Peterson says. Wingstop at first required the guest to engage with the chatbot directly. “This let customers learn how the platform works, and we could learn how they naturally navigate through it.

“Now that customers are familiar with the platform, we can allow the chatbot to respond directly to the guest whenever they express intent or desire to order.”

Is this hard to implement?

Lamm says the Wingstop integration took just a few months, in part due to the seasoned team at Conversable, including co-founder Andrew Busey, who founded iChat and invented many modern uses of the technology. 

Peterson says the biggest challenge is figuring out how to adapt the ordering workflow “within the guardrails of each constantly evolving social messaging application.”

“It forced us to think about our ordering flow differently, and to modify for a conversational user experience.” That challenge will increase as social media platforms rapidly grow and change.

This feels like the future. So what's the future of the future?

People are so used to engaging with existing social networks that adding new features and layers of technology, like chatbots, becomes a natural extension of the product, even for the tech-phobic, Peterson and Lamm say. 

“Conversational commerce can be extended almost infinitely, depending on the apps your customers use and prefer,” Peterson says. “We see conversational commerce extending into voice-based channels, as well as additional text-based messaging channels.”

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